HLF: give us an early warning if your museum is at risk

Funder gives evidence to Countries of Culture Inquiry
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
The Heritage Lottery Fund's (HLF) chairman Peter Luff has urged museums at risk to come forward and seek assistance as early as possible.

Giving evidence to a select committee hearing for the Countries of Culture Inquiry last week, Luff issued a “klaxon” to local authorities and museum stakeholders to reach out to the lottery funder if they were in trouble.

“That is a very important message. If a local authority is worried about its museum, come to us early, discuss it early, talk about problems early in the process,” he said. “Don’t leave it to the last minute, please; an early warning really matters.”

Luff said that while the HLF was unable to provide revenue funding, it could help organisations to build capacity and find out about various governance and mixed funding models.

The lottery funder is launching a new stream, Resilient Heritage, to address the rush to trust status and help less experienced organisations, such as volunteer groups that are interested in taking over the management of a museum, to make the case for funding.
The scheme will combine the previous Transition, Start Up and Catalyst small grants programmes and will open in late July or August.
“The new Resilient Heritage programme will provide the money... to build capacity, to understand how to run an organisation, develop new income streams, attract new audiences, make certain changes to the infrastructure of the building, whatever it is,” said Luff.

The HLF’s former chief executive, Carole Souter, who also attended the hearing, added: “We can help with small grants that will help those groups that are not even an organisation yet to think about their governance, what their business planning ought to be, how they would go about being ready to think about a proper application for a larger grant.”

Luff also said he was concerned that some local authorities were moving their museums to trust status without fully considering the implications.

“One particular concern is that you can’t shuffle off the financial responsibility from your books as a local authority by creating a trust and letting it go,” he said. “It is very important to have a long stream of tapered funding to make sure that new organisation, that new trust, can be secure for five to 10 years.

“The local authority has to recognise it is only creating a trust. It still retains responsibility for those artefacts, the collection itself and probably the buildings as well. It still has a responsibility to safeguard it.”

Luff urged the select committee to focus on local authority museums in its inquiry. “The focus of this review must be on the local authority sector,” he said. “It is so important for the infrastructure of museums, for audiences, skills, venues for touring exhibitions, for example, that these museums are protected and are able to flourish.”

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